Chipotle’s Guac Scare Another Example Of Clever Advertising
Chipotle has been building their brand very effectively since formally rejecting traditional advertising techniques in 2010, and they’re not afraid to use a bit of good old-fashioned fear mongering in their bold strategy.
Recently, Chipotle made headlines by announcing that they would stop serving guacamole if nothing were to be done about the climate crisis. Well, in so many words.
In truth, the burrito brand says they were simply warning investors that extreme weather events “associated with global climate change” may potentially affect the availability, and therefore the price, of some of their key ingredients, including guacamole. If prices were to rise, Chipotle isn’t sure that they would pay the extra amount, as that would likely raise their prices. They aren’t getting rid of guacamole or anything though, so don’t worry. They were just saying, that’s all.
This is another example of Chipotle positioning themselves as a brand that is as known for their ideology as much as their casual-fast Mexican food, in the way that Toms shoes is known for charity as much as fashionable footwear. It’s called Brand Humanization, and it’s the idea that consumers want brands that they can feel are their trusted friends.
The guacamole story, though a false alarm, reminds us that Chipotle is a company concerned about bigger issues than simply shoveling delicious beef bowls out the door – they care about the environment, and they care about fair prices for the consumer. Not bad ideas to be associated with.
Chipotle was always something of a rebel in the advertising world. Between 2004 and 2009, they cycled through 4 different big-time advertising agencies and couldn’t find a good fit, rejecting all 4. Chipotle is a tricky brand to sell in conventional ways: they don’t change their menu and their prices don’t fluctuate. They’re pretty consistent in that regard.
Chipotle’s CEO, Steve Ells, has expressed his distaste for advertising pretty flatly in the past. “For Chipotle, I guess I’d say [advertising] is not less important to our CEO, because he never thought it was that important,” Mark Crumpacker, Chipotle’s chief marketing officer, told Ad Age in 2010. “He’s asked me [whether] should we do advertising at all. [I told our CEO], if you’re not going to let me do advertising, you’re kind of making this job pointless,” he said.
Chipotle’s marketing, then, is concerned with promoting the company’s commitment to “food with integrity” and to find ways to remind viewers that they are not owned by McDonald’s, a common misconception that stems from McDonald’s being an early investor in the company.
So Chipotle promotes their brand in this way: First, you promote common-sense ideals because you just want to “initiate the conversation.” Second, you let viewers associate themselves with this common-sense ideal. Lastly, let the viewers connect themselves to your brand because you helped show them that they were capable of making the right decision.
Consider their big viral ad from 2013: “The Scarecrow.” Remember? The CGI cartoon with Fiona Apple covering that Willy Wonka song that gave you all those “feels”? Our hero, the Scarecrow, works in a soulless factory inhumanely slaughtering cows. He feels terrible about this until he finds a lone pepper growing (one that looks very similar to the Chipotle logo, actually) and finds a more organic solution to farming.
Ads like this let you do the math: “I don’t think it’s right to treat animals poorly” plus “Chipotle doesn’t think it’s right to treat animals poorly” equals “I should be a good person and eat at Chipotle.”
Sometimes they even have dopes spell this out plainly, like this article for The Huffington Post literally did, ending with “eat at Chipotle, too.” Can’t beat that kind of press. It’s not even sponsored content!!
Of course, sometimes people see through it. Funny Or Die pointedly made a video showing the advertising techniques embedded throughout the content baldly to humorous effect.
Manipulating your audience into associating their personal identity with your brand is the name of the game in marketing and this latest technique has proven to be effective. “The Scarecrow” was one of the top viral videos of 2013. In mid-December, Unruly ranked “The Scarecrow” as the No. 55 most-shared video of the year. “There is no doubt that it’s a stunning piece of work with some incredible animation, but recent research has found that sharing is not really about creative appeal, but more about emotional appeal,” says Ian Forrester, Unruly’s insight director. Forrester says research suggests that viewers are more apt to share ads that generate strong emotional responses.
Consumers are 30% more likely to share ads that evoke positive emotions than ads that elicit negative ones. “However, what makes ‘The Scarecrow’ so clever is an unusual combination of both positive and negative responses,” Forrester says. “The ad is like an emotional rollercoaster; viewers are really put through the wringer.”
Before that was Willie Nelson’s sad cover of Coldplay’s “The Scientist” which also showed a CGI cartoon depiction of the dangers of industrialized farming that was popular but not nearly as popular as “The Scarecrow”, probably because it isn’t quite as gut-wrenching.
Another example of this technique is Dove’s Real Beauty campaign. Their video with the comparative beauty sketches ended up being the most shared advertisement of 2013 and also appealed to viewers in an emotional way, being both depressing and uplifting in equal measures. Mixing sweet and sour with “shareable” activism seems to be the right mix of ingredients to produce a viral hit.
Branded content, in which the content and the advertising are indistinguishable, is what we seem to be moving towards as the future of all entertainment. Someday soon all content will be mixed together like a KFC Famous Bowl of indistinguishable muck, and this is what advertisers are looking for – commercials you can’t fast-forward past because they calls are from inside the house!
Chipotle demonstrates their commitment to branded content with their new HULU show, Farmed And Dangerous, a satirical look at the factory farm industry, which is their latest marketing gambit. The show debuted in February to so-so reviews.
The show is four 30-minute episodes that focus on a fictional agricultural giant called Animoil introducing a new animal feed that makes cows explode. The show follows Animoil’s top PR man, Buck Marshall (Ray Wise), on damage control after an exploding cow video goes viral.
Again, Chipotle is showing us who they are by skewering who they aren’t. They’re making sure that restaurants with food integrity are an important part of your decision making process. Sure, they’re advertising, but they’re educating. This also marks a move toward trust-based promotion, and the purpose- driven brand. Whole Foods has a clear purpose, so does Chipotle. They want a healthier world. Who doesn’t want that?
This is good timing, as Chipotle’s focus aligns with a growing sentiment among American consumers who are supporting premium brands associated with quality ingredients more than ever, especially as nutritional information has become more available.
Chipotle knows what they’re doing. They see how to work the machine to their benefit. They have delicious burritos, and they have the perception of being “right” on their side. It will be interesting to see how this trend of advertising continues to develop before consumers begin to reject this form of pitching, too.
Grant Pardee is a comedian originally from Ohio living in Los Angeles. He has performed at Bridgetown and SF Sketchfest, the Improv, Upright Citizens Brigade, and many other places, too. He contributes articles to VICE, and in 2013 the webseries he created, wrote and produced “Happy Place” was a finalist for the Comedy Central Short Pilot Competition at the New York Television Festival. Follow him on twitter @grantpa